College and career ready

Think back to the beginning of your college career.  What did innovation look like for you?  What did technology look like for you?  What did learning look like for you?

I know what it looked like for me:

 

 

I’m sure that each of us could come up with a different description of what learning and innovation looked like at the beginning of our college career.  Then I think back to my 5th and 6th grade years.  The first time I remember using a computer was as a 6th grader.  Our school put in a computer lab that year as part of a remodel.  The only thing that we did with the computer was learn keyboarding skills (as far as my teacher was concerned, the computer was just a fancy typewriter).

Now let’s think about what innovation might look for our students after they graduate from college.  For those of you who work with kids who haven’t even hit junior high yet (like me), it’s kind of hard to imagine, right?  The sixth graders in my school will graduate from high school in 2024, and our fifth graders will graduate in 2025.  We could make predictions today about what specific skills our kids may need when they graduate, but knowing how much things changed between the time I was in 6th grade and when I graduated from college, and knowing that technology is accelerating at a pace much faster than it did during my formative years in the 80s and 90s, there is no way for us to be sure what specific skills our kids will need in terms of innovation and technology.

And yet, there’s always that idea that we need to “prepare our students for a successful future.”  Isn’t that what most teachers would agree is our goal?  So how do we do that when we don’t know exactly what our kids need to know?

Edutopia is one of my favorite social media follows, and this is what popped up in my Instagram feed the other night:

In the future job market, social and emotional skills will be at a premium.

A post shared by Edutopia (@edutopia) on

What strikes you as you look at that graph of job growth?  Look at the growth in the need for analytical skills and social skills, while there is a massive fall off in the need for an ability to complete repetitive tasks.  What are you doing in your class to explicitly teach social and emotional learning to your students?

Daily Quotes

Recently I was sitting in a meeting with a family, and the teacher of the student leaned over and said to the student “When you’re here, I’m worried about expanding your heart … and your brain.”  I loved how this teacher put the heart first, and how there was a pause before the brain!  In a world where the answer to almost any question can be found by looking on Google or YouTube, college and career readiness isn’t going to be defined by how many factual questions your students can answer.  It’s going to be driven by your student’s ability to be empathetic towards others.  It’s going to be driven by your student’s ability to see problems in our world, and collaborate with peers to find solutions.

I’ve recently been reading the book Creative Schools by Ken Robinson, and there was a quote that stood out to me:

Our communities depend on an enormous diversity of talents, roles, and occupations. The work of electricians, builders, plumbers, chefs, paramedics, mechanics, engineers, security staff,

Let us all remember that our students’ futures don’t necessarily rely on their ability to recite their math facts, to memorize 20 vocab words in this unit, to be able to identify all 50 states and capitals, or be able to list the names of the planet in order from the sun to the end of the solar system.  All of those things can be answered now, in most living rooms, by asking Siri, Alexa, or Google.  Also remember that academia may not be the path for every student who steps into your classroom.

There is such a diverse range of needs for the future that I believe the best thing we can do is to focus on those so called soft skills.  Take the time to model what collaborative skills actually look like.  Use a fish bowl activity where some students model while others observe, then have students both on the inside and the outside of the fish bowl discuss what went well and reflect on areas that they need to continue to grow.  If needed, as the teacher you should give them the feedback that they need to be successful the next time they are working collaboratively.

Help your students learn how to use technology to accelerate their learning.  It’s not just for consumption, but also for creation.  Allow them to notice real world problems, and then help them to figure out ways to solve the problems they notice.  Keep working with them on their communication skills – both written and spoken.  Find ways to encourage every student not only to speak, but to lead in the classroom.

As the Friedman quote above reminds us, we are preparing our students for an unknown future.  The constants for our kids will be collaboration, technology, problem-solving, communication, and the ability to be a leader.  As you plan your lessons, focus on those skills.  If you empower your students in all those areas, they will be ready for whatever the future holds.

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Planting trees

8 years ago when my daughter was born, we planted a tree in our backyard. It was a Japanese Maple, and at the time of planting it only came up to about my waist. Unfortunately, we no longer live in that same house, so I am not quite sure exactly how tall that tree is now, but based on what I know about the growth rate of trees like the one we planted, it’s probably no taller than me. Given that amount of growth, I’m sure it only provides shade for a small section of the lawn. As any of you know, planting trees for your own benefit is a long-term project. The Chinese have a proverb that I believe says it best:

Chinese Proverb

Education can be a lot like planting trees. When our kids first come to kindergarten, they are a like a seed, and before long they begin to sprout. The amount of change that takes place in that kindergarten year can be truly impressive. Throughout elementary school, students develop much like that sprout, and by the time they hit the intermediate grades, they are a bit like a sapling. Those saplings are more developed, and beginning to look a little like a tree, but saplings still have a lot of development to do in order to provide meaningful shade.

One of our roles in education is to be like the gardener, and help each of our seeds grow into a mature tree over the life of their education career. There is an important thing to remember though – trees don’t completely mature in just a year. It takes time and effort to get them to grow.

In the house we live in now, there are 3 maple trees in the backyard. Two of them were already there when we moved in, and a third was added last summer. The tallest of the three is not even as tall as our house, and I didn’t even have to rake the leaves that were produced this year, I just ran over them with a mower. They don’t give off a ton of shade yet. At times that can be frustrating – especially on a hot summer day. Each year I have to trim back a little on the branches, but I know that trimming them back is sometimes the key to new growth.

I know that in time, those trees will grow and provide our backyard with plenty of shade. Two of them are close enough together that I may even be able to hang a hammock between them for some relaxation.

Just like those trees, our students don’t always come along quite like we would hope. Some of them are challenging, and we need to do work to help them to learn and grow as we would want them to. Some of them don’t seem to grow as quickly as we’d like them to. It’s easy to become frustrated when our students don’t get to where we “think” they should be, but we have to remember that the education of each of our students didn’t start with us, and it won’t finish with us. We get the opportunity to do the best we can with each of our students, help them to learn and grow the best that we can, and have the confidence that through our best efforts, they will continue to develop into the mature tree that we want them to be.

As I know I’ve shared before, I believe that every one of our students has a path to success inside of them. Sometimes it isn’t easy to see that path, but it is there. All we can do is to guide them along their path of development.

What does the research say?

A couple weeks ago I wrote about John Hattie’s work developing a ranking system that rated the effectiveness of a variety of influences on student learning. If you didn’t get a chance to read that post, you can find it here: Research, meta-analysis, and John Hattie. As I shared in that post, sometimes it’s overwhelming to begin looking into educational research for ideas to implement in our classroom. What I love about Hattie’s work is that he does most of the heavy lifting for us. He has combed through nearly 1200 research studies, and has a list of 195 influences that can relate to learning outcomes.

In today’s post I’m going to look at a couple of the most promising influences on learning outcomes. These are the things that we might use to find the answer to the never ending question of “What works best in education?” As a reminder from last week’s post, mileage may vary based on the background and influences in your classroom, but the larger the effect size in Hattie’s meta-analysis, the more likely it is to impact learning for the students in your class, and an average effect size is a 0.40. Anything over a 1.0 would have a huge impact.

  • Teacher Estimates of Achievement (Effect size 1.62): We all naturally make judgements about students. For a long period of time, research has shown that teachers have lower expectations for students from low-income families and black students. In an interesting study out of Brown University, boys and girls who start school with the same types of behavior problems generally end up in very different places down the line. Boys in this group have lower test scores and lower graduation rates. Why does this happen? Boys from this background are not expected to be successful, so they aren’t. I’ve always loved the Henry Ford quote “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”  What if we change that quote slightly – Whether you think they can or think they can’t, you’re right. The research is solid – when we believe that our students can learn and be successful, they are much more likely to live up to it. We’ve all had moments where we think (or say) “That poor kiddo just can’t do it.” Be aware of these thoughts, because they can impact your attitude. Our attitude affects our choices, and our choices have consequences.The reality is that if we believe we can make a difference for these kids, they are more likely to be successful!
  • Collective Teacher Efficacy (Effect size 1.57): This refers to a group of teachers who believe that through working together, they are able to develop students’ abilities. Basically, if you believe in yourself and your own abilities, you are much more likely to be able to help your students to learn and grow. When a teacher has a high level of efficacy, that teacher is likely to have a higher level of effort and persistence, be more willing to try new teaching approaches, set more challenging goals for themselves and their students, and attend more closely to the needs of students who require extra attention.
  • Self-Reported Grades (Effect size 1.33): Another name for this strategy could be student expectations – how prepared do students believe they are t show what they know? Children are generally pretty accurate in predicting how well they will do on a test prior to taking it. As the teacher, you would then find out what those student expectations are, and then pus the student to exceed their expectations (Growth Mindset!). A way to do this would be to ask a kiddo to write down their predicted score on the top of an exam prior to taking the exam.  se that information to engage your students to try to do even better than what they predict!

There are many more influences in Hattie’s meta-analysis, but I wanted to point out these three because they are all more than 3 times the average effect size, they are all relatively easy to implement, and especially in the case of the first 2, they are entirely reliant on our own beliefs about students and learning!  We’ve talked a lot about growth mindset in education – to implement these influences, we need to practice our own growth mindset!

Hattie - Good things follow

What are your thoughts?  Do any of the three influences above strike a chord with you?  What can you do with this information to impact the learning of your students?  In a recent interview, I heard one teacher talking about the importance of starting right now.  Sometimes in education we’re tempted to wait until after a break, or until the end of the semester.  The teacher shared that in her opinion, if you know better, why wouldn’t you want to do better?  Take something from this post, and think carefully about how you could use it for the benefit of your kids, and then… Just do it!  Don’t put it off, dive in!

Growth mindset and the innovator’s mindset

In the past 6 weeks I have been participating in #IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course). For those of you who aren’t aware of #IMMOOC, the course is centered around the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. The book focuses on these guiding questions:

  • How do you move from “pockets of innovation” to a “culture of innovation”?
  • How do we start to innovate inside the box?
  • How do we move from “engagement” to “empowerment”?
  • What does innovation mean for education, and should every educator be an innovator?

In the first week I wrote a blog post titled Innovate…why? in which I pointed out my 3 main reasons for innovation in education. One of the items I shared was on the role growth mindset plays in innovation in education. After posting my blog, I got the comment below from George:

Couros Comment

With this comment, I began thinking about the role that growth mindset plays in The Innovator’s Mindset.  Couros defines this mindset as:

the belief that the abilities, intelligences, and talents are developed so that they lead to the creation of new and better ideas.

I believe that all teachers agree that we are looking for ways to help the learning that happens in their classroom be “new and better”.  As I read more and more of The Innovators Mindset, I began making connections between what I read from Couros, and the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.  In this book, Dweck shares a quote from Benjamin Bloom that I feel relates to The Innovator’s Mindset:

After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.

Think about the power of that statement. This is not about the top 1-2 percent – the ones we might call geniuses – being able to learn anything. It’s the belief that with the right circumstances, anyone can learn anything.  What does that fact do for you as a teacher? I know that for me, that drives me to think about what those appropriate conditions are that will lead to the best possible conditions for learning.

I don’t think that the traditional model of school creates those best possible conditions for learning. I think that we as educators reflect on what we can do to learn and grow in ways that will create new and better learning environments for our students. As I think back on the conversations through Twitter, through the guest sessions, and the text of The Innovator’s Mindset, there are a few things that I see as imperatives, and all of them take a growth mindset from us.  Here are 4 of them:

  • Risk Taking: This is not just about getting our students to take risks, it’s about modeling our own risk taking as educators. During our course kick off with Jo Boaler, a statement really resonated with me – “It’s hard to give kids a growth mindset if you don’t have a growth mindset about your own learning.” Statements like “I’m not good at technology” or “Math was never my strong suit” show your students a fixed mindset, and does nothing to encourage their own risk taking. Instead, we might say things like “We’re going to try this and see how it works out.” Even if you fall flat on your face, you modeled for your students a willingness to step outside your own box, which encourages them to do the same.
  • Homework: You better be coming at me with research on this one, because I know some of us in education view homework as a must. As Alice Keeler pointed out, that 10 minute per grade level rule of thumb for homework is totally bunk with no research to support it.  “Some dude just made that up” she says.  The research on homework, especially at the elementary and intermediate grade, shows that the effectiveness is very low. On the other hand, relationships have a very high correlation to learning and growth. What gets in the way of those relationships? One thing is the negative interactions that happen at the start of class when we are discussing homework that wasn’t completed last night. If we take that away, we instantly remove one of the barriers to great relationships with all kids! If you must give homework, assign 20 minutes of free reading time. That reading is correlated with a lot more success than any worksheet! And if the worksheet is so important, shouldn’t you be doing it in class so that the students have appropriate guidance?
  • Grading Practices: For years, there has been a tradition of teach the lesson, hand out the homework, collect it the next day, grade it, put it in the gradebook, and hand it back (that’s what was done to me, and at least for a while, it’s what I did in my classroom). Let’s be honest though – most of those papers we hand back end up in the trash. Kids didn’t value them. Parents often only valued the grade in the gradebook, and how it affected their child’s overall grade. Learning was not the focus, an A-F letter grade was all that mattered. When we put a grade on anything, that signifies an end of learning on that topic. If we want to continue the learning, meaningful feedback is so much more powerful.  And I have to ask, are there times that you don’t pick something up as quickly as a colleague? Maybe some new tech is taking you a while to get used to, maybe you’re trying to figure out how to embed more inquiry into your math, whatever it is, there’s probably somebody who “got it” more quickly than you. Should you be evaluated lower because it takes you longer to make it work in your classroom? I want to applaud those who try something new – even if it takes longer than the teacher next door to them! Students are entitled to the same chance. If the focus of your classroom is on learning, how can we not reteach to those who struggle? How can we not offer a retake to someone who wants to show that they are learning and growing? We need to celebrate that learning, whenever it happens!
  • Flexible Seating: This isn’t just about putting fancy furniture into your classroom and then assigning seats just like you did with desks. True flexible seating is like what happens each time you go to Starbucks to work. I know that sometimes I like the table and chair so that I can spread out. Other times I like the high table so that I can stand while I am typing, or use the stool if I must sit. And every once in a while, that comfy chair in the corner calls may name. How sad would it be if every time I walked into Starbucks, they told me where I had to sit? Kayla Delzer reminded me that “Starbucks is a better learning environment than our classrooms.” A true flexible learning space leads to ownership and choice, which leads to more motivation, which leads to better learning. And here’s the fact – if flexible seating can work in kindergarten classrooms, there’s no way you can’t set the norms for your class to make flexible seating successful! Have kids try out each seating choice, have them reflect on what is their best learning space and why, and then encourage them to choose the spot that works best for them! As you set the norms, remind them that you always have veto power on any poor choices that they make, and then give it a whirl. Why wouldn’t we want our students excited to get to class so that they can pick their just right seat?

OK teachers, how many of you are feeling challenged by some of the things in this post? That’s ok! Are you feeling intrigued to make a shift? Then just do it! Don’t wait for the weekend, don’t wait for Thanksgiving Break, if you believe that a change here could impact learning for your students, then take that leap. Have a growth mindset, but even more, have an innovator’s mindset to try something that will be new and better for your students!

Couros - Best for this learner

No, really… What are YOU learning?

In last week’s post, I wrote a little about the role that we as teachers play in developing our students.  I suggested that one of our primary goals should be helping to develop a strong disposition of learning for our students.  If you aren’t quite sure what that means, let’s unpack that phrase just a bit…  I found a webpage from the New South Wales (Australia) Department of Education that had a great definition of learning dispositions:

What are learning dispositions-
New South Wales Department of Education: Learning Dispositions: https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/curriculum/learning-for-the-future/futures-learning/learning-and-teaching/learning-dispositions

The page goes on to define the following commonly identified dispositions that are relevant in thinking about future-focused practices.  This list includes: Persistence; Agility and flexibility; Motivation and drive to learn; Metacognition; Problem-solving and questioning.  If you’d like to know more about any of those ideas, follow the link that goes with quote above.  At the end of the short article there are also some great links to go a little deeper, and even some ideas about how you might teach and model these skills.

So… Now that we have a shared understanding of that strong disposition of learning, the follow up question that many might come to is how do we develop those dispositions of learning in our students.  I believe that one of the best ways to teach our students is through our own modeling.  If we want our students to develop these dispositions, we have to first share them, then talk about how we use them, and then show our students the fact that we use them in the moment.

One of the ones that stands out most to me, and ties most closely with my post last week is the motivation and drive to learn.  Part of the reason I started to write this blog was as a way to document my own learning, but I also began blogging as a way to share with you the awesome things I was learning.  Those reasons are probably obvious to you.  But one of the other reasons I started a blog was to model my own learning for each of the teachers and staff in our school.  My hope was that through seeing the steps I was taking to search out and learn about my own curiosities, you might be driven to do the same.  So now, I’m going to ask you to think about the question that I shared last week: What are you learning?

If we believe that our students need to have a disposition for learning, and we can agree that an important piece of that disposition is having a motivation and drive for learning, then the next conclusion is that each one of us has to be a learner too.  What is the most recent educational book you read?  When’s the last time you read a blog about education?  When’s the last time that you searched Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or some other social media site to find ideas for activities that could impact learning in your class?  And even more important than that, when’s the last time you modeled something that you learned for your students?  Or shared with your students the fact that you had learned something new?

We can tell our students until we’re blue in the face that it’s important for them to be self-motivated, that they need to have a drive to learn, but one of the best ways we can show them why it’s important is by showing them that we are taking steps to continue to learn.  Think about the power that would come from opening a lesson with “this is something that I have been learning about” and then going into an interesting, exciting, and engaging lesson.  If the students see you as a learner, that may be a motivator for each kid in your class to think of themselves as a learner!

So here’s my gentle nudge for you to think about – how can you bring your own learning into your classroom?  How can you bring your own passions into your classroom?  Modeling yourself as a passionate and interested learner – about anything – will model for your students the value of being a learner.  And then, if you want to take it to the next level, how can you encourage your students to bring their own learning and passions into your classroom?  Give them a voice and a stage to share what they are learning about so that they can model for each other that disposition of learning!

What do you think?  Can we encourage our students to have stronger dispositions for learning through modeling our own dispositions for learning?  What haven’t I thought of?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The innovators

I’ve recently been reading a book called The Innovators by Walter Isaacson.  If you don’t know anything about Isaacson, he’s written biographies about Ben Franklin, Henry Kissinger, Albert Einstein, and Leonardo Da Vinci, but several of his other books are more about groups of people who have played a role in some way – one book, titled American Sketches, is about some of the great leaders and creative thinkers of our society.

The InnovatorsThe Innovators has the subtitle “How a group of hackers, geniuses, and geeks created the digital revolution.”  This book caught my attention for a couple of reasons – first, I’ve always been something of an early adopter of technology.  I love to check out new and exciting innovations.  A second reason that this caught my attention is that I’m always curious about how people made the leaps to take us from the earliest computers (devices that took up entire rooms in the basement of college buildings or at military bases), to the technology that I can hold in my hand every time I pick up my iPhone.

Innovation is something that we often think of in terms of those big leaps.  When I was in sixth grade, my elementary school was renovated, and one of the classrooms was converted into a computer lab.  The first time we walked into the computer lab as a class, we saw a room with about 30 IBM computers.  The only thing that I remember being able to do on those computers was a keyboarding program that began the process of teaching me to type.  For me, this felt like a HUGE innovation.  Little did I know how much more our students would be able to do in the future.

The chapter that I am reading right now is all about software, and one of the big names in the development of computer software was Bill Gates.  Early in the chapter is a quote from him about what an innovator is:

An innovator is probably a fanatic, somebody who loves what they do, works day and night, may ignore normal things to some degree and therefore can be viewed as a bit unbalanced.

Reading about Gates, and many of the others who appear in the book, I can see how this definition certainly applies to innovators.  Here’s the thing though – I think there are times that you could substitute the word teachers for innovators and that definition would still work (I know my friends think I’m a little unbalanced to spend so much of my time with 10, 11, and 12 year olds!).  We are all something of a fanatic about what we do – we’re fanatics for our kids.  We love them, we want to help them learn and grow, and we want them to be successful.  I know that our efforts to get there make us all feel a little unbalanced at times.

One of the things that I have taken away from the book The Innovators is that the transition to the digital revolution was NOT made up of several giant leaps.  Instead, the innovations that have led to the amazing technology that I am able to carry in my pocket has happened because of little steps layered on top of one another.  And more often than not, those innovations were not made by any one person.  People such as Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, Robert Noyce, Grace Hopper, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Larry Page (along with so many others) all played important roles in the digital revolution, but the steps of each of these people built on the ideas of others.

We as teachers need to remember that as fanatics, it may not always be easy to get our students to learn and grow as quickly as we want them to.  They may not be immediately successful, but if we continue to innovate in our teaching, if we continue to try to reach kids in new and exciting ways, we are going to be able to reach more of them.  We also need to remember the value in teamwork for our students to learn.  Just as so many of the innovators mentioned above found success by building on the ideas of others, you may find success with a student through strategies others share with you. Whether it be a teammate, your PLC team, someone down the hall, or any one of the multitude of other people in the building, there are others who might have an idea that helps you get that kid to move forward.

What are some of the things that you are fanatical about?  Have you ever tried something new that seemed to be the key to reaching that kid?  Share you experiences in the comments below!

What is school for?

Put yourself back in one of your childhood classrooms – at the beginning of the day what was it that your teacher always said?  If it’s anything like my childhood experience, it was something like “Good morning class.” Then what would happen?  The whole class would respond “Good morning…”  And what happened if you weren’t loud enough, or respectful enough?

I think we all have lived that situation – and I may even have been guilty of fulfilling the teacher role (as recently as the first day of school… THIS YEAR!!!).  But here’s the question, what are we teaching with that call and response open to the day?  It’s mostly about teaching obedience.  Traditionally, the common school was built to prepare children to become the factory workers of the future.  Implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, schools taught students to be obedient, to hold a little back, to do the work assigned and nothing more.

Our job is not to prepare students for something. Our job is to help students prepare themselves for anything.So that brings us to the bigger question: What is school for?  While some of our students may consider a role in manufacturing, the factories of today are way different than the ones of the early to mid 1900s that led to this factory model of education.  Many of our students will not be heading down the path of manufacturing, so that factory model of school definitely doesn’t apply.  If you believe that innovation is going to keep happening (and why wouldn’t it?), then we’re preparing our students for an ever changing world!  That is so different from the traditional model of school as a factory.  In an excellent TED Talk by Seth Godin, he gives 8 examples of things school should be doing:

  1. Homework during the day, lectures at night – flipped learning
  2. Open note and open book all the time – if it’s important enough to memorize, it’s also ok to have to look it up
  3. Access – any course at any time – programs like Kahn or MOOCs can achieve this
  4. Precise focused education – not a one size fits all model
  5. No multiple choice – life isn’t multiple choice
  6. Experiences instead of test scores – learning is focused on the experiences that take place inside (and outside) of our classroom
  7. End of compliance as an outcome – while compliance may be needed at times, it shouldn’t be our end goal
  8. Cooperation instead of isolation – the ability to work with others

I could go into more detail on each of these, but I can’t do any better than what Godin did in his talk, so if you’d like to know more about any of these things, check out that TED Talk here.

So here’s my answer to the question “What is school for?”: I want our students to be equipped to go out into the world and make something that has an impact on their lives and the lives of others.  And I want them to know that if they get stuck, to ask for help and support.  While we might not always have all the answers, hopefully we can help our student to find the answers.

I’m curious to hear your answers – for you, what is school for?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!